South Sydney's spine shakeup
Having seen his side lose four games on the trot, South Sydney Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire has pulled the trigger and reshuffled his spine heading into Friday night's crunch game against the Eels.
The Rabbitohs have scored 20 or more points just once since Round 2 and find themselves in 12th spot on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder, justifying the wholesale changes to the players in key positions.
Greg Inglis switches from fullback to five-eighth, forcing regular pivot Luke Keary to the bench, while Alex Johnston returns to the side in the No.1 jersey.
Inglis is no stranger to the role having played 44 games with the No.6 on his back including a Clive Churchill Medal winning performance in the 2007 grand final when he scored two tries for the Storm against Manly.
The Kangaroos and Maroons superstar actually boasts a 77 per cent winning record when he plays in the halves and has scored 27 tries in the role.
"I'm looking forward to seeing 'Greggy' back at five-eighth," Maguire said at the team's training base in Redfern on Wednesday morning.
"Greg and I have spoken about various things within our team and being able to play a different style to what we've been able to have over the last couple of weeks.
"Obviously when you're going through a period like we have, we're working very hard to come up with a few little changes to reignite us and that was one of them."
Maguire rubbished suggestions the move was designed to help protect Inglis's troublesome knee from being overworked, using the recent Trans-Tasman Test as a reminder of how formidable the 29-year-old still is.
"It's actually got nothing to do with his knee. His knee is all OK," the South Sydney coach said.
"We get asked – and no doubt he gets asked – about his knee every week. I watch him run around at training and I watched him play for Australia the other night and he looked pretty good, so there's nothing wrong with the knee."
Maguire was hopeful the move into the halves would give Inglis more opportunities to take control down his favoured left edge while at the same time presenting Johnston with a rare chance at the back.
"To put Greg to five-eighth I think is going to give us a great opportunity down that left edge. Alex Johnston coming back in is pretty handy for us. We'll have that extra speed coming from behind so we're looking forward to having him back in," he explained.
"You're looking for things to bring to your team all the time as a coach and I see this as one of them.
"We've been able to play Greg and 'AJ' (Johnston) as a bit of a double fullback role at times so…I've got to be able to make sure I can utilise the ability of what we've got."
It has been reported that the natural succession plan will see Johnston move into the fullback role permanently in the future, and it's a position he has played in the past for the 2014 premiers.
Johnston deputised for Inglis five times in 2015, managing just one win, but that victory did come against this weekend's opponents.
"I've done a fair bit with Alex as a fullback. You're always looking to make sure you can cover certain areas in your game, and obviously with Greg when he goes into Origin period, he leaves us through that period," Maguire said.
"You do spend a lot of time with players in various positions, and AJ has spent a lot of time at fullback and I think he's actually going to be a very good fullback over time with his speed and the way he can chime into the line.
"He's got a good catch and pass when you're coming from edge to edge so I'm looking forward to him really growing in that position."
Keary - the man to make way for Inglis at five-eighth - hasn't started from the bench since Round 20 2014; the same year he donned the No.6 in South Sydney's grand final win over the Bulldogs.
Maguire said Keary had handled the decision "very well" and was expecting a dominant display from the 24-year-old when he entered the fray.
"Luke is a pro and always has been," Maguire said when asked how his premiership winning five-eighth had taken the news of his move to the bench.
"I discuss everything that's going on with my players and they're aware of it. He's been on board at training this week and how he's gone about things and I've seen him train very well this week.
"We'll be able to bring him off the bench and bring on some extra enthusiasm when he comes out. I'm looking forward to seeing him come on and inject himself into the game as he does."